NHL suspends Flyers’ Niskanen for crucial Game 6

Matt Niskanen

What would a Flyers-Montreal playoff series be without a little bad blood?

Or, based on Game 5’s antics, some rather major bad blood.

There were all sorts of questionable behavior in the Flyers’ 5-3 loss to the Canadiens on Wednesday night, cutting Philadelphia’s lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series which resumes Friday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Taking center stage was Flyer defenseman Matt Niskanen’s high hit on Canadien forward Brendan Gallagher, resulting in a mouthful of, you guessed it, blood. After a CT scan on Thursday, Gallagher learned he suffered a broken jaw on the play which will require surgery and force him to miss the rest of the series.

On Thursday night, the National Hockey League announced it was suspending Niskanen for one game for his actions.

With Niskanen out, Shayne Gostisbehere is expected to return to the lineup.

Meanwhile, the Flyers weren’t exactly thrilled with Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s cheap shot on Travis Sanheim, a blow which sent the Philadelphia player’s face straight into the glass.

Kotkaniemi received a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct penalty on the play, which saw Sanheim retreat to the bench for a quick repair job. He returned to action later and finished the game.

And there were other incidents of ungentlemanly-like conduct.

After Montreal scored its third goal at 11:30 of the second period, center Nick Suzuki cruised past Flyers goalie Carter Hart and sarcastically tapped him on the helmet.

The game ended with the Flyers’ Sean Couturier cross-checking Montreal’s Artturi Lekhonen, causing a brawl at center ice.

Despite all that, the Flyers don’t sound too interested in renewing the physical feud for Game 6.

Their thinking seems to be, stick to the business at hand, which could mean getting some goals on the scoreboard. They’ve scored only eight goals in the five games so far.

“There’s no doubt there’s no love between both teams,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said during a midday Zoom call from Toronto. “Both teams want to win, very competitive. The hit on Travis, it was a blow up toward the head that cut him. The hit by ‘Coots’ at the end, boys will be boys.’’

Before the suspension announcement, Vigneault did his best to exonerate Niskanen.

“In my estimation, Gallagher got up and he seemed fine,’’ Vigneault said. “He was talking to the referees the whole time he was on the bench, talking to our players for the rest of the game. I think Gallagher’s a competitive player but I don’t think it’s Nisky’s fault. . .he (Gallagher) might not be as tall as some of the other guys but he competes as big or if not bigger than anybody else.

“It seemed (like) a hockey play. Unfortunately it cut him a little bit.’’

Joel Farabee saw the play from the bench.

“In my opinion, it’s playoff hockey,’’ he said. “Guys are going at it, fighting for every inch. I didn’t think it was to the point where a suspension was needed or anything.’’

Kevin Hayes said he doesn’t expect things to get out of hand in Game 6.

“It’s Game 6 and I think every game brings more intensity,’’ he said. “Their backs are against the wall. I think the intensity is going to be there. There were a couple hits and a little scrum at the end. It’s going to be a fun game for sure. Both teams need a win.’’

As for the Suzuki-Hart incident, Hayes shrugged it off.

“That’s just immaturity,’’ said Hayes of the 21-year-old Suzuki’s gesture. “Not sure what he was thinking. That’s his decision. I don’t think we need any more fire (motivation), honestly. It’s just uncalled for. I think they were teammates at World Juniors once – just a spur of the moment thing.’’




>Putting Game 5 behind them


Vigneault said the Flyers will take the same approach for Game 6 as they did for Game 3, which came right after the 5-0 loss to Montreal. That is, don’t dwell on the mistakes but learn from them.

“Every game is a new game,’’ Vigneault said. “Stay in the present. Focus on the task at hand, what needs to be done. That’s what our players are doing. Like we expected, a very competitive series.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2473 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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